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Valley Journals

Talent, team chemistry and fast feet: Huskies look at bright soccer season ahead

May 08, 2017 04:39PM ● By Travis Barton

Senior wingback Josh Raty controls the ball against Roy. “We've got wingbacks that are talented, they can get up and down the field, it's a demanding position,” said head coach Eric Raine. (Steve Carnahan/MyTopPix)

By Travis Barton | travis@mycityjournals.com 

It has been two years since the Hillcrest Huskies boys soccer team played an elimination game in May, they stand to reverse its fortunes this year. 

“At least talent wise, it’s the best group of kids that we’ve had together in a while,” said senior captain Cade Kartchner.

With a varsity squad filled with premier-level players, players and coaches feel strongly about what they can accomplish this season.

“Honestly, I think we can go far in the playoffs and I hope that we do. We have the talent, we have the chemistry,” Kartchner said.

In 2015, the Huskies lost a play in game to West High School that would have seen them qualify for the playoffs.

“They were just happy to get there,” said fourth-year head coach Eric Raine. “These guys have a different expectation now. We don't want to just get there, we want to play the last game of the season.”

To reach this level of confidence, the program has suffered through its growing pains. From fractious relationships in the previous years to the injuries faced in the beginning of this season.

Raine said in late March that the unorthodox two-week break in early April between games (because of the region’s three different school districts) would provide some respite for the Huskies’ mass of injuries.

“We’re fighting these nagging injuries that have sort of lingered from club ball and we haven’t really given them a break between conditioning and games,” Raine said and added they hadn’t played a game at full-strength yet.

In a style of play that’s malleable between controlled possession with skilled center midfielders and quick counter attacks with the speedy Kartchner, the team feels good about its abilities.

But Raine said it requires the right group of players.

“We want talented players to have the ball at their feet so we try to make a style that enables you to get your best players on the ball,” he said.

Possibly the most important element is the team’s chemistry, often riddled with discord through Raine’s first three years.

Kartchner said there was a disparity with older players refusing to buy into Raine’s philosophy.

“On the field that resulted in a lot of dysfunction,” he said. That mentality, he added, has changed.

“I think the positivity and approachability of the coaches, along with the mentality of the players coming up through the system, has really led to our improved team chemistry,” Kartchner said.

Whether it’s the team eating lunch together for weeks at a time or the preseason tournament in Orem that had them eat dinner, watch a movie and hang out during an overnight stay at a hotel.

“We work hard on building the team chemistry,” Raine said. “The bonding is a big deal to us because at the end of the day I'm not sure if it’s the wins and losses I care about, it’s giving them an experience of a lifetime.”

This is the first senior group he’s had all players chosen by him.

There are signs of growth as well. Last year saw the Huskies defeat then two-time defending state champion Skyline. This year they felt they outplayed defending region champ Murray before ultimately falling 2-3 on a penalty call in the last few minutes. This comes after losing 0-5 to the same team a year ago.

“Maybe realizing we should've won against Murray is a sign of the progress that they’re making. Getting them to realize they're progressing is the deal, and I hope they feel like they are,” Raine said.

That message is sinking in with his players.

“This is the best year Hillcrest has had for soccer ever,” Kartchner said. “Just from the first preseason game we had…the passing sequences we were putting together, the off-the-ball runs (were) incredible.”